Take Your Criticism and Love It!

Take your criticism

For five years, I had the great fortune to be a member of a dedicated Writer’s Critique Group. During that time, I line by line edited approximately 1,920,000 combined words for my four critique partners, and they each critiqued about 780,000 words for me. That’s a lot of words. 

And did I ever learn a lot about writing!

Of course, the positive feedback was nice, and it was delightful to know when things were going well. But the real joy, the most valuable feedback was the constructive criticism. I craved the ugly, gritty details. I wanted to be nitpicked and challenged. I longed to improve and grow as a writer, and to accomplish that, I needed to know everything I was doing wrong. Each correction, negative comment, and suggestion was a precious gift that someone cared enough (about me) to write down and share.

As writers, we are usually too close to our books to be objective. We are infatuated with our characters and intimate with our stories. We know far more than we’ve put to paper, and therefore, our viewpoint is skewed. We don’t have the “fresh” perspective on plot, character, and pacing that other authors (and readers) can bring to a book.

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Then there are the technical aspects of structuring sentences and paragraphs in interesting ways, making verbs pop, deepening point of view, showing versus telling, slashing filler words, killing redundancy and tightening. Until someone points out the weaknesses in our work, until we see it applied directly to our prose, it’s hard to comprehend.

Apparently, I couldn’t write a sentence without the word “that.” That was an invisible word that I never noticed until that was pointed out to me. That was eye-opening and that was a word that I now cull to the extent that I can. 🙂 UGH. Thank you to the wonderful writer who opened my eyes to “that!”

Now, I’m not talking about nasty comments or broad sweeping statements. Those don’t encourage growth and aren’t worth the words. I’m also not suggesting that anyone provide an unsoliticted critique of someone’s blog post! I’m talking about private, constructive feedback with contextual examples, the goal being to teach the craft, support one another, and improve our stories.

I’d suggest that every serious writer seek out criticism.  Join a local writer’s group, find critique partners online, pay for an in-depth edit of your first three chapters if it’s all you can afford. Ask for tough love, soak it up, love it, and painstakingly apply the principles to your whole book.

When I started out, my writing was crap. I was clueless. I took my criticism and loved it. I still do.

zombie-499199_960_720WARNING: This only applies to writing. Critiques of my bland cooking, lackadaisical housekeeping, and unfashionable attire will earn you “the look.”

Happy Writing!

120 thoughts on “Take Your Criticism and Love It!

  1. Amber MV says:

    There’s criticism when people care enough about you to give you constructive feedback because they respect you. And then there’s criticism when people just want to drag you down and dominate you because they’re messed up. Be wary of which is which, for both are real.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I’m not talking about the mean-spirited criticism. That isn’t helpful and isn’t worth anyone’s time. I’m talking about the pointed constructive criticism that someone took the time to communicate because they care. You’re right, Amber, that there’s a huge difference. I like your point that the mean-spirited criticism says a lot more about the “giver” than the “receiver.” A great thing to remember when our feelings are hurt. Thanks for weighing in and have a great weekend. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. joannesisco says:

    A very interesting post (and I LOVE your warning!!)

    A couple of winters ago, I took a writing course that involved critiquing the work of each other. It was extraordinarily hard to do because I had no idea what I was looking for in a piece of writing. I either liked it or I didn’t – a rather superficial perspective.
    I was focused purely on the merits of the story rather than the way it was told.

    Just learning how to critique other people’s writing improved mine.

    … but I’m still AWFUL at showing rather than telling 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s challenging to give feedback, but so important. And you’re right, that in organizing our thoughts about why something didn’t work for us, we learn and can apply it to our own work. Showing is hard and it takes lots of practice, and there are times when telling is appropriate! Like anything, it takes practice 🙂 Thanks for the visit and comment, Joanne. Always appreciated, my friend ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. stevetanham says:

    True in writing and true in life. You’ve got me worried about “that”, now!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] Myths of the Mirror: Take Your Criticism and Love It! […]

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lisakunk says:

    My words were feel and seem. Also well and that. I love those words. Well, it seems others don’t feel the fondness I do for them and that’s the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. reocochran says:

    I would never correct a writer but often my interpretation is “off.”
    As in Art, I feel the reader has their own point of view sometimes which tempers or influences their final thoughts on each book.
    I am definitely guilty of using “that” too often, Diana! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think all feedback is helpful, Robin, when it’s solicited and given with the best of intentions. If you are intrepreting something differently, there’s a good chance that others will too. It gives the author a chance to at least consider making a change that she/he wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s all good 🙂 Thanks for the visit, my friend ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Inner Ramblings Boulevard: and commented:
    Sometimes a little construction criticism can go a long way.
    I’m always open to it… ☺ 🌷

    June 18 2016

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jona says:

    Hi would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m looking to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a tough time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.

    The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most
    blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I shudder to think where I’d be without my writer’s group. Bitter and poorer for it, I’d say.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They are great, aren’t they? I was reading some old writing of mine and it was just horrible! It still would be horrible if everyone had just smiled and said it was great. Ugh. Have a great weekend 🙂

      Like

  10. Sabiscuit says:

    I loved this essay. I have always said a quiet thank you to people who’ve trashed my work. Even yesterday, I thanked, in prayer, the many people who have said terrible, hurtful things to me about my work. The thing is, I don’t always agree with their approach, which is to make it a denigrating attack on me as a person. However, I would not have tried things differently, gone over the top with a technique or new medium, done a different edit or gone “big” with a public exhibition if everyone said, “nice job.” The thing is, usually, after saying something nasty to me, these people have been very defensive or avoidant, when they should come back to offer support. If their words were true and I were indeed a sucky individual, they should stand by that and do a followup. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry that you were criticized as a person, and you are so kind to offer a thanks in reply. I don’t think I’m as gracious as you 🙂 I agree that “Nice job” doesn’t teach us much, push us to try harder or be more creative. Knowledgeable quality “negative” criticism should do all those, as well as make us feel excited about tackling our challenges. Anyone can give a personal opinion, but I think good criticism is an art and not something that most people are good at – thus our need for thick skins. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sabiscuit says:

        You’re lovely Diana. Thank you for this response. One thick skin coming right up. 🏋 It is my job to tell people what they’re wrong about without crushing their spirit and I tend to forget that it’s supposed to be hard. Have a great Wednesday. ❤️ 💞💓

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Annika Perry says:

    Diana, the key word in this post is constructive! I love that you have thrive on the criticism you receive and that is has been of such a great help. I doubt your writing was ever ‘crap’! We can all learn and improve though. I have been part of a one group which had two very different kind of writers in in – from one set I received brilliant feedback – I still remember the day they said I use far too many -ing words. Wow, I’d never noticed but so true. However some other writers were extremely negative about everything every time. It got tiring…however your excellent post has given me incentive to contact another local group soon. I have their details on my desk; just needed the proverbial kick!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Annika. Yeah, a good group leader is crucial – one who sets a positive tone, models good critiquing, and sets the norms for the group. There should always be a blend of positive and negative (a sandwich – the negative salami between the positive bread). On another note, I’m so sorry to hear about your father-in-law. Extra hugs and wishes for peace and comfort to you, your family, and all who loved him. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  12. tedgiffin says:

    a Revelation= overuse of the word ‘THAT’. Thank you and oops!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Nitin says:

    ‘That’ is a really cool advice, that i think will remember for a long time. 🙂 Great post.. again. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I love that you love the criticism. There are a few people in my critique group who seem to thrive on criticism. Even when I think everyone went overboard, they gush about how helpful it is. Wonderful people.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the comment, Jacqui. I don’t implement every suggestion, but just the fact that someone took the time to read and think about what didn’t work for them and then write it down – that’s a gift. So glad you are part of a group. The people I worked with all became dear friends 😀 Happy Writing!

      Like

  15. jademwong says:

    Constructive criticism is so rare and worth so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s true, Jade. It really has to sought out. I’ve found it’s best when it’s provided on a reciprocal basis or in an editing/teaching relationship with the goals clearly stated. Not easy to find, but so worth it. Thanks for reading and Happy Writing. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Agree that positive feedback is always great! Wishing you a great week ahead! 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right – Postitive feedback is wonderful. It shows us what we’re doing right and that is good to know. But I have to say its the caring criticism that has made me a better writer 🙂 Thanks for the visit and have a great week!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. So spot on! I’m also fortunate to have a superb-fabulous-awesome critique/writing group. The best part is that each one has her own specialty, things she can see in the grand scheme that help me improve. One can see the plot arc, another the emotional arcs, another the technicals. So important to have other eyes on your work! Not to mention great writing friends. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  18. This is excellent advice and advice I need to take.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Widdershins says:

    I’m a first draft ‘that-er’ 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, me too, plus a bunch of other invisible words. I have a list. I recently ran a word count and found out that I love the word “only.” Lots and lots of “only.” Ha ha. Sheesh. Thank goodness this is so much fun. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. mistermuse says:

    Love “the look,” but I’m wondering if that’s before or after you put on your makeup? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  21. dgkaye says:

    I loved this post Diana. It’s so true, there’s nothing like another pair of eyes on our work to point out things we tend to miss, or bad habits we repeat with a blind eye. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  22. oldsoldr says:

    Is that that the that that I think it is? Or was that that part of a discussion that I didn’t participate in? (Outdid myself on this one.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha. Hi Ted!
      All those that’s! I’m really good at them. When I added up all the words we’ve cross edited, I was amazed. Glad to see you blogging. I’ll come over for a visit! Happy Writing.

      Like

  23. SD Gates says:

    I have never been part of a writing group – I suppose I should be. But even when I go to writing conferences, I feel like any creativity I have is squashed by all the rules, and helpful hints and guidelines. And I sit in front of my computer, staring into space, completely paralyzed by all of that. But a little bit of constructive criticism I agree, would be helpful.

    I use “that” quite a bit and get confused between using “who” and “which” as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean about the rules and structures. I find them paralyzing as well. Many writers will suggest completing first drafts without worrying about any of the editing details. That way the creativity and story is free to flow. The critiquing all comes later and, of course, not all suggestions are useful. The writer is still the boss! 🙂 Happy Writing!

      Liked by 2 people

  24. Thanks for teaching me about the word “that”. I catch myself all the time now and use it less and less. I really appreciate your willingness to offer feedback. You’re about the only blogger that I can count on for an honest response to my work. Thank you for this D. I don’t want sugar coated answers, I need the truth! Lol… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, THAT word. It still sneaks into my writing, Michelle. It’s a word I just don’t see. (I have a bunch of them that I need to watch out for). Thanks for the sweet comment. Happy Writing to you, my friend. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Julie says:

    Ah yes, the coveted thrill of a rip it to shreds critique. It’s nice to hear THAT you improved through it all. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a jittery thrill, Julie, but I really do covet it, especially as I start to apply the feedback and see my work transform. I still make ridiculous mistakes, so thank goodness for those wonderful critiquers/editors/readers 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Sean P Carlin says:

    I was in a writing group myself for many years, Diana; it was an invaluable experience, in part for the feedback I received, but even more so for the skills I developed — i.e., how to give and receive notes.

    As a colleague of mine once said, there’s a difference between a suggestion and a note, and part of taking criticism is learning to identify the difference between the two. A reader may propose, for instance, that you have a bomb go off during that scene in the masquerade ball, right? That’s a suggestion. Now, it may or may not be right for the story you’re trying to tell — only you can determine that — but the note underpinning that suggestion is this: The scene at the ball isn’t sufficiently engaging.

    So, when I give feedback, I try to give the note first, and then, if I have one, make a suggestion as to how to address it. And when I take feedback, I try to determine the note beneath the suggestion I’ve been offered before I start implementing a bunch of ideas that may or may not be strategically sound.

    Learning to identify the note within the suggestion is one of the best skills any writer can cultivate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sean, that’s a wonderful distinction. What a useful way to look at feedback. I think that the “note” is critical for a few reasons – it’s respectful of the author’s story, it’s open ended in terms of solutions, and it gets at the weakness in the frame versus the symptoms. Suggestions might miss the mark but they do indicate that something isn’t working. I figure that if someone took the time to stop and write a comment on my work, it’s worth taking seriously. The note is key. Thanks for enriching the converation and Happy Writing. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Excellent post, Diana. I am sure I use the word “that” far too often too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Very interesting and very helpful! But, I don’t want to get that look! Love your cooking! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Great post and thoughts. Destructive criticism is never necessary. But good honest suggestions are a God send. They make our writing better. They make us better writers. We learn about little habits or favorite words or phrases that we over use.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. balroop2013 says:

    I agree with you dear Diana. I have learnt the most from critical views, be it writing, speaking or living. Our critics are our best friends! They may seem detestable but never avoid them as they fine tune our styles…whatever their intentions may be, they prove highly beneficial. I wish bloggers too could critically analyse our work. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • True, Balroop, though I think the intent behind the critique matters. If should be an act of kindness and generosity that is meant to be helpful, and encouraging. I have seen blogs where writers ask specifically for feedback, but it’s not common. The public forums is awkward. Better to ask for feedback privately, just my opinion. Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  31. I give “the look” to my children when they leave their clothes all over their bedroom floor 😀
    Great post as always!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Allie P. says:

    I am very grateful for the reader who recently let me know I overused the word ‘that’. I had no idea. Thanks to that one reader’s kind, yet honest, criticism I am now confident my next project will be better than the last, more so than had every reader simply provided praise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly, Allie! I have tons of those examples. 😀 And the beauty is once we learn them, we don’t have to learn them again – our writing going forward is much better to start with. I think there’s always room for improvement, but each step is an achievement. Thanks for visiting and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Mom Sees All says:

    Sheer genius! All true. Every syllable. It takes a special person to provide constructive criticism and someone equally unique to receive and apply it. Kudos! And you’re appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the lovely comment. I hope it came across what a huge gift it is when someone takes time out of their own life, family, writing to read and critique. I’m always so grateful. Have a lovely weekend and Happy Writing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  34. I am still trying to wrap my head around “thirty-three pov characters may be a few too many.” Hey, it made sense at the time!

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Mira Prabhu says:

    Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    During my years in Manhattan (pre-millennium), I joined a Writer’s Group…and found myself in the midst of tense and edgy folk mostly insecure about their work. One guy actually brazenly informed me that the only reason I had got a great literary agent in Manhattan was because I was Indian! (At the time, India apparently was “in” – or so he believed). Eventually I left the group and never found another. Today beta readers generously read my work and help me to “see” my work objectively…every serious writer or artist has to learn to love constructive criticism because it is what transforms a good writer/artist into a great one…and to find a group that truly supports us is something to be grateful for…now read on…

    Liked by 1 person

  36. There is nothing I like more than incisive constructive criticism.

    No, I take that back. There is nothing I like more than fixing a manuscript *after* receiving some incisive constructive criticism.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. inesephoto says:

    Diana, your posts are always a source of knowledge for me with my non-English speaking background. I imagine how important the feedback could be for a writer! I wish someone was there to point me my mistakes so that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself with my grammar. Your books are very entertaining and thought provoking, but another thing I love about them is your language.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Inese. Your English is just fine. I never notice any missteps at all, and I’m not just saying that. 🙂 Thank you also for the kind comment about my writing – I continue to learn. Have a wonderful day and enjoy the weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

  38. I totally agree, Diana. You can tell what’s helpful and what’s just nasty criticism. I never criticise back. I just thank the person and go on. I’ve read a lot of blogs and written material about writing. I now belong to a group where we critique each others writing. There’s always room to improve and I realize that. We have to be realists and not think our writing perfect or we won’t learn a thing. I have a good friend I’ve known for years. I never critique her work as I don’t think she could take it. I think you have the right attitude. 😀 — Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

  39. You are so right! I post and critique a lot on Absolute Write in Share Your Work, and it’s been an education all on it’s own.

    Not everything is useful, of course, but the line-by-line critiques I’ve been given have improved my writing a great deal. And I’ve learned at least as much critiquing others’ work as I have from the feedback I’ve gotten.

    I don’t know if Antonia will pop in again and see this, and AW’s not for everyone. But it’s free to join in case she or anyone else wants to give it a go.

    And just in case anyone’s wondering, I don’t own or have any vested interest in AW. They’ve just been extremely helpful for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Great post. Nothing beats constructive critisism, it makes us grow if we listen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lots of factors, of course, related to timing, frequency, and the subject of critique. But definitely if we’ve solicited it, a thoughtful thorough response is like gold. 🙂 My life is so much easier for all the people who took the time to teach me how to do something better or more efficiently!

      Liked by 1 person

  41. Margret says:

    very interesting point and I agree about those nasty comments they doesn’t help….I see some those nasty comments when they are reviewing a book .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reviewing is a whole other situation! Negative reviews will happen and it’s just part of life as a writer. I do appreciate it when the reviewer is specific, and I will make corrections . When it’s not specific or just a matter of taste, it’s best to just not worry about it. Thanks for reading, Margret. Happy Writing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  42. K'lee L. says:

    Extremely good points and great advice, Diana.

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Ah…the look ! ☺ Some times, we don’t need to get it in person. We get it.❤️
    If you can’t take the critique, best to leave your writing in private journals. Maybe ? Nice piece, Diana.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought my early writing was masterful, Van, and it was hard to hear that it was awful. But I’m so grateful for all the feedback that straightened me out. Yes, if someone can’t handle it, publishing is not for them because the critiques continue, aren’t always nice or helpful, and they’re public! Oh, and the “look.” Ha ha. Thanks for reading, my friend. Have a lovely weekend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  44. Wonderful advice! Thank you for sharing your experience! I do love the warning. Reminds me of me lol 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Val Boyko says:

    Great advice .. Tough to handle .. Growth❣

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Val. I’m not open to all criticism – just ask the old hubby. Ha ha. But with writing, I really appreciate it. I don’t always take it, but if someone takes the time to reflect and write it down, I’m at least immensely grateful. Thanks for the visit and have a wonderful Friday and weekend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  46. The V Pub says:

    re: “As writers, we are usually too close to our books to be objective. We are infatuated with our characters and intimate with our stories.” I wrote a bit about this yesterday. That’s part of my dillema with writing songs. Sometimes they’re too personal and it becomes an issue with letting others hear my words. The bad singing doesn’t help, either. 😀 I agree, criticism is good. I play with two classically trained musicians and because I’m self taught, I depend on them for music theory. The other side of it is that they love playing with me because I’m not bound by rules of music. It’s a happy mix!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Rob, those rules are meant to be learned and then creatively broken (in my opinion anyway). I actually like working with writers of all skill levels because everyone brings something individual to the table. It is interesting as a listener/reader to wonder if the material is personal when it may not be. I think great work can feel so authentic that it’s hard to tell. Thanks for the comment and keep creating!

      Liked by 1 person

  47. purehaiku says:

    criticism I thrive on – rejection annoys me – bland praise I hate – but if people enjoy my writing and want to read more, I’m over the moon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • To me there is a clear line between constructive criticism and rejection – one helps us learn. I know that some comments seem bland, but the person did bother to write :-). Enjoy it for what it is. Thanks for reading and commenting. Happy Writing

      Like

  48. Antonia says:

    Constructive criticism is so hard to get. I have a problem with the word that too 😀 Great advice Diana!

    Liked by 1 person

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